Firefighters train with trooper helicopter

Published 9:20 pm Wednesday, October 28, 2009

New training for the Clanton Fire Department got off the ground Wednesday — literally.

The department worked alongside Alabama State Troopers to learn about helicopter rescues.

Firefighters conducted three different exercises with the state’s Critical Response Team, which mans short-haul rescue missions through the air.

“We’re not an EMS helicopter — all we do is get them out of the area of danger,” said Cpl. Kent Smith, who coordinates the team.

The helicopters aid in rescues where victims are high off the ground or a long way from traditional rescue vehicles.

“If victims were in locations where we couldn’t access them easily, we would have to call in the troopers,” said Clanton Fire Chief David Driver.

The first training exercise at the Chilton County Airport involved moving a victim from a raised fire truck bucket back to the ground.

The training could be useful if firefighters ever have to transport somebody from a cell phone or water tower, Driver said. Though not practical in relatively flat Chilton County, the maneuver could also rescue people trapped on rock walls or other steep terrain.

Clanton Lt. Jeff Dansby — the pretend victim —said the worst part was how much the helicopter shook the fire truck bucket, not being suspended in the air.

“It was shaking. Being in that bucket was way worse than being on that line,” said Dansby. “Once you got in the air, it wasn’t that noisy … it’s not every day that you can get training like this.”

The group then practiced removing someone from a remote location back to a safe area.

For this exercise, Mike Deason of Clanton Fire and Mike Hegwood of Clanton Police played a victim and rescuer needing transport from a soccer field at City Park.

The helicopter flew from the airport using the park’s GPS coordinates and hovered above the field while a trooper rappelled down and helped Hegwood load Deason into a harness. The three men then flew back to the airport.

The training could simulate an injured hunter or ATV driver several miles into the woods, Driver said.

“We have a lot of hunters in Chilton County,” said Driver. “Say you have a hunter in the middle of the woods, several miles out. The helicopter would help us get them to an ambulance.”

A similar third exercise involved rescuing victims from a wooded area near the airport.

The new Critical Response Team has been conducting rescues for about six months, after practicing and earning certification for a year.